Asbestosis risk from imported Chinese trains

Date: Nov 29, 2013

Transport for NSW has been forced to deny that Sydney’s new Waratah fleet could expose workers and the public to asbestos after it was revealed some trains imported from China contained the deadly material.

Asbestos can cause a number of fatal lung illnesses following regular inhalation, including mesothelioma and asbestosis.

The carcinogenic fibre was found in ten locomotives that were purchased by freight carrier SCT from China Southern Rail, despite certificates describing the vehicles as asbestos free.

Chief executive of the Asbestos Safety & Eradication Agency Peter Tighe told the ABC that existing policing of the harmful material is not up to standard.

“It’s another example, I think, of the lack of compliance in relation to certification from Asia, and more specifically China, that asbestos-free certification is really questionable out of those areas.”

NSW asbestosis risk?

The incident has raised concerns in NSW, with part of the Waratah fleet of trains also being sourced from China.

Bob Nanva from the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, speaking to ABC sources, said his organisation has no confidence that the trains are asbestos free.

Mr Nanva said the state government needs to provide assurance to the public and workers that there are no asbestos components “buried deep away” on the vehicles.

“If they can’t do so and can’t give the public that assurance then we will be asking for a full audit of these trains,” he said.

In a statement, Transport for NSW said it is satisfied there is no asbestos in the fleet, adding that the organisation has inspectors based in China to ensure no banned substances are used in the production process.

“Ticking time bomb”

According to Mr Nanva, the current situation under which trains are imported from China is a “ticking time bomb”.

“The fact that you have family station wagons, trains, numerous components from China being imported into Australia without the requisite checks is a grave concern to us.”

A CSR spokesperson said the asbestos found in its trains was due to a sub-contractor that had misinterpreted the definition of the deadly material, believing chysotile – otherwise known as ‘white’ asbestos – to be permitted.

There are three main types of asbestos: white, blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite). Traditionally, blue and brown are considered to be the most dangerous forms of the substance.

However, Perth asbestos expert Professor Bill Musk told the ABC that white fibres may create the same lung cancer risk as blue ones given the same amount of exposure.

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